THE SATAN KILLER (1993) – August of 1993 saw the release of this cop-on-the-edge movie crossed with a “Satanic serial killer at large” exploitation flick. Steve Sayre directed under the alias Stephen Calamari and starred as Police Detective James Stephen (not StephenS … Stephen. As in Stephen Calamari.)
Before I dive into this review let me say that I am now obsessed with finding information about Lost At Sea, a 1995 film Sayre made with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as the villain. If Lost At Sea is as deliriously deranged as The Satan Killer it will be another gift from the Bad Movie Gods.
Getting back to the topic of this review, this low budget film shot mostly in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach, VA deserves its own Disaster Artist-style book and movie devoted to its making. The seven current IMDb reviews feature a few people who claim to have been part of this production and it sounds like the kind of wild, guerilla, quasi-shady venture that was much more interesting than anything that made it on film. A Virginia newspaper was supposedly even investigating Steve Sayre and his brother at one point to see if a movie really was being made, at least according to one of those reviews.
Let’s take a look at our leading characters:
DETECTIVE JAMES STEPHEN (Steve Sayre) – James’ fiancee Christie (Cindy Healy) is abducted, tortured and murdered in a ritualistic way by a Norfolk area serial killer dubbed the Satan Slayer (not killer) by the local media. James has been working the case and media scavengers make a sideshow of his grief. Our hero copes by drinking heavily and slipping into the yellow shirt that he apparently plans to wear every day for the rest of his life.
I’m serious, by the way. The movie takes place over the span of a few weeks but the detective wears the same yellow shirt the entire rest of the film with the exception of a few flashback scenes featuring happier times with his fiancee. To show that our hero is apparently going without sleep and without shaving, what looks like shoe polish is applied to his face to pass for beard stubble and dark circles under his eyes. Comically enough, after awhile our hero starts looking like he’s made up to resemble a raccoon.
Jim Stephen obviously has a rare condition which makes his beard stubble grow darker but never longer, a sign of the spray-on stubble the actor must be sporting. (I was only kidding about the shoe polish.) He keeps slamming down booze to kill the pain of his fiancee’s brutal murder and/or the fact that many of his coworkers keep calling him “Stephens” instead of Stephen. (It’s the little things that add up.)
At any rate, Sayre manages to sound like Ross Hagen while looking like a younger and more physically fit John Alderman, which blend is a delight for any connoisseur of Psychotronic Movies.
JIMBO (James Westbrook) – Yes, our Satanic torturer, rapist and murderer is named Jimbo. He resembles Lemmy Kilmister and rides around on a Harley as he shadows, then preys upon his victims. When the Norfolk/ Virginia Beach media ask people to call in any time they see a man who looks like this suspect I couldn’t help wondering if their switchboards got flooded with calls every time a Motorhead video played on MTV. But I’m kind of weird.
Jimbo hates women because when he was a child his cruel mother worked as a stripper and invited her boyfriends to smack the boy around as much as she did. One time, a black-eyed little Jimbo complained to a priest that God hated him as much as his mother did, so that’s another issue marked off on the Serial Killer Checklist. At one point the adult Jimbo parks outside the church he visited as a child and screams to God (or maybe the dead priest) “You never fooled me!” At least that’s what he screams based on the context of the scene. But I swear it sounds like he’s yelling “You never phoned me!”
BILLY FRANKLIN – Billy Franklin plays HIMSELF in this movie. And I’m not joking. Apparently Billy Franklin was really an ex-cop/ private investigator/ polygraph technician in the Virginia Tidewater area. He uses his real name and steals every scene he’s in as a P.I. who loves to rough up people he’s interrogating by literally squeezing their balls with one hand until they’re practically begging to be let go. And when he’s not actually squeezing guys by their balls he’s TALKING ABOUT squeezing guys by their balls.
And that obsession with balls made me wonder if one of the callers to a radio show earlier in the movie was supposed to be Billy Franklin. When discussing what should be done with the Satan Slayer if or when he’s caught, a call from a woman opposed to the death penalty (the movie’s original title) is followed by a call from a man who says “I think we should cut the bastard’s balls off and fry them in oil.” It definitely sounds like Franklin’s voice but whether it’s him or not plays no part in the story, I’m just curious.
Billy is hired by the wealthy Lauters (Bill O’Dell and Barbara Hearst) to find the serial killer when their daughter Tracy (Christian Lane) falls victim to him. They offer a $100,000 bonus if he’ll kill the Satan Slayer slowly and painfully … and he accepts. Remember, this guy was apparently happy to appear under his own name in this flick, with his character working in his real-life occupation.
LAURA SCOTT (Belinda Creason/ Borden) – Laura is introduced to us viewers as a callous reporter jamming a microphone in Detective Stephen’s face and asking him about the tortuous death suffered by his fiancee and how it feels to be taken off the case. And this is right after her murder. Given the American media, it’s the most realistic scene in the movie.
The reporter starts covertly following Jim around as he searches for clues on his own and drinks himself half-blind on a regular basis. Belinda actually does a half-decent job of non-verbally conveying the fact that her character is starting to have feelings for the grieving, same shirt-wearing lug. Despite her hunger for a story she starts to cover up for the detective when he begins killing people himself. And I mean people who had nothing to do with his fiancee’s murder. This movie is set in a very weird moral universe.
By the way, Laura Scott looks like the dead fiancee Christie and like a lot of other women in The Satan Killer. Sayre or whoever did the casting obviously had a fondness for a certain “type” of woman and it makes for some confusion on a first viewing. A few times I thought the Satan Slayer’s latest victim WAS Laura Scott, but nope. Anyway, when The Man In The Yellow Shirt saves the reporter from a pair of attempted rapists their romance really starts to take off.
OTHER THINGS TO LOVE IN THIS MOVIE:
*** The way that, even though Jim Stephen has been taken off the case and even though news reports AND eyewitnesses tie him to some of the collateral killings he commits while investigating on his own, he STILL has official police force standing to the point where he can even charge the department for some of the weaponry and ammunition he buys during his vigilante revenge quest.
*** The Australian or British DJ who for some reason hosts the Norfolk, VA radio phone-in show about capital punishment.
*** Laura Scott’s fellow television reporter, a black guy who looks like The Gumbel Brother That Time Forgot.
*** For hardcore sports fans, this 1993 movie features that black television reporter having a Doug Wilder reelection poster. Wilder was the Virginia Governor who, in December of 1993, gave the imprisoned Allen Iverson the conditional clemency which enabled him to be drafted into the NBA.
*** The way the only vaguely Satanic thing we actually see the serial killer do is write 666 on a mirror with the lipstick of his latest victim. The rest of the time we only hear people mention that he commits torture and performs Satanic rituals in conjunction with his murders.
*** The fact that one of the questions that Billy Franklin asks all the victims of his ball-squeezing is what the serial killer had for breakfast. I’m not kidding.
*** The way that a background character who at one point climbs onto the stage with a nightclub’s strippers resembles the guy wearing the “I’m A Virgin” T-shirt in The Unearthling/ Pod People. (“Good? He’s the BEST!”)
*** A promising scene at the Haunted Castle, an area establishment, in which Jimbo preys on one of his victims. That promise is thrown away by poor lighting and ineffective directing. Our villain suddenly and out of nowhere replaces one of the fake ghouls in order to kill a female patron of the spook-house. If handled well, the scene could have packed quite a punch.
*** A disturbingly pointless and SHORT visit to the airport on the part of our hero, who accomplishes nothing while there and then in a jump cut is suddenly clashing with a pimp in an alleyway.
*** The batshit crazy line of dialogue that says “Toothpicks kill 30,000 people a year.”
*** The thoroughly bizarre way that a fellow patron at a bar overhears Jim Stephen and Billy Franklin talking about their now-joint pursuit of the serial killer … AND DECIDES ON THE SPUR OF THE MOMENT TO JOIN THEM! At first I thought he was supposed to be the grieving boyfriend of the woman killed at the Haunted Castle, since the movie made a fairly big deal of that character and his outrage over his lady’s murder. Nope, he’s just a bystander who served as a male nurse in Vietnam and now wants to enlist in a revenge quest of dubious legality but definite danger.
*** The fact that even the female bartender in that scene resembles the dead fiancee and Laura Scott.
*** Billy Franklin describing the murderer as “a scum-sucking motherfucking ball-biting death machine.” For me and all of my fellow fans of Bad Movies that line will now be equivalent to “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
*** The way that the blood stains on our hero’s yellow shirt disappear from one shot to the next after the shootout at the docks.
*** Jimbo, our Satanic serial killer, having to go running to the mobster/ crystal meth dealer he works for to ask him to protect him from Detective Jim Stephen. (?)
*** The trio of killers that the mobster sics on the detective slipping into his hotel room and helping themselves to hours-old leftover pizza in a greasy pizza box. This makes them easy prey for Stephen when he abruptly returns, since they foolishly holstered their guns to enjoy the cold pizza remains. (I used to think The Driller Killer featured the most unappetizing depiction of pizza ever captured on film, but this movie outdid it.)
*** The “to hell with innocent bystanders” shootouts at the docks on the Elizabeth River and at the construction site setting for the movie’s finale.
*** The way that the newspaper-covered homeless guy sort of resembled Bill Bowman of Bowman Body fame. (The Virginia locale may have made my mind wistfully see him as a Bill Bowman lookalike, though.)
*** The laughably sappy and often inappropriate songs on the soundtrack.
*** Two words: Rap Attac (sic)
Finally, after countless innocent civilians have been mowed down in the crossfire of their various exchanges of gunfire, Jim Stephen succeeds in killing Jimbo and moves on with his life despite killing almost as many people as his serial killer nemesis did.
Hell, when the Portsmouth Police Department and its S.W.A.T. team poured onto the scene for the story’s climax, it resembled the ending of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when Bolivian troops line the rooftop across from the restaurant. If The Satan Killer had ended with a freeze-frame of Jim Stephen and Jimbo running out with their guns blazing as we heard the sound of gunshots mowing them down I would have declared this movie to be the greatest cinematic achievement ever.
No such luck, though. Despite that disappointment, The Satan Killer is sure to become one of the greatest cult films ever thanks to its newfound notoriety. And if people aren’t cosplaying as Detective Jim Stephen in his yellow shirt, spray-on stubble and raccoon eyes by this Halloween I will lose all faith in my fellow fans of Bad Movies.
Think I’m exaggerating about this flick? Watch the trailer below. A trailer whose writer obviously did not understand what “undercover” means, because at no time does the detective go undercover.
FOR MY REVIEW OF EIGHT MOVIES FROM EMENEGGER AND SPIELBERG CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LEO FONG MOVIE MARATHON CLICK HERE .
FOR MY ROBERT GINTY MOVIE MARATHON CLICK HERE
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